At 7:00 AM in the morning, we boarded the bus and were off to Madang! The road system in Papua New Guinea is quite strange. There are many paved roads, but just when you get comfortable cruising along on a nice paved road, you go around a corner and find that half of the road has sloughed off down the hill and there is only one lane remaining, or a boulder the size of a Buick has rolled down from one of the hills above the road and is blocking a whole lane. Driving here definitely takes full concentration. Ukarumpa is located in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, at around 5,500 feet, after about an hour and a half of driving we found ourselves switchbacking down the Kissam pass as we dropped into the lowlands and the Ramu Valley. The people in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea tend to be aggressive; as a result, when leaving the Highlands for the Lowlands, one tends to breathe a little easier.
The Ramu Valley is a beautiful valley full of sugar cane, oil palms, and Papua New Guineans everywhere you look. It is fun because the people walking along the roads glance at the vehicle as it passes, and when they see it is full of white people they do a double take, and then throw both hands in the air, wave frantically and scream at the top of their lungs, “Wait Man”. Anyone that's not a New Guinean, regardless of their skin color, is called "Wait (white) Man".
We made good time through the Lowlands, slowing down occasionally for one-lane bridges, bad spots in the road, and one river ford.
Gradually the open fields of the Ramu Valley were replaced by jungle that was growing denser every kilometer. Eventually we were passing by grass huts as we rumbled and roared by village after village.
Suddenly we came to an opening in the jungle at a fork in the road by a market. We veered to the right, left the pavement, and began our 25 kilometer journey through the muddy road that passes over the Finnisterre Mountain Range.
Here you are truly in the middle of the jungle. As far as you can see in all directions is thick green vegetation. The road is deeply rutted and muddy.
There had not been much rain in the last day or two, so the road was good, but the going slow.
There are deep dips that require bringing the vehicle almost to a stop to avoid bottoming out, and hills up to 20% grade that require shifting to low gear. But there are still people walking along the sides of the road. In places where a pool of water has formed naked children peer out of the ditch at the bus as it lumbers by. Also, we met many PMV’s (a PMV is like the taxi of PNG, they are always moving too fast and carrying too many people) coming from Madang loaded up with Papua New Guineans all with tow ropes tied to the front bumpers to help them through the worst parts of the road
After making it through the Finnisterre Range, we dropped down on the other side to Madang. On the outskirts of town, we stopped by a place known as Blue Water. Blue Water is a cave where bright blue water smelling of sulphur seeps out of the ground into a lagoon. There are cave formations at the mouth of the cave, and if you look down into the water pooling at the mouth of the cave, strange white turtles are swimming around. After looking around at Blue Water we were tired and hot, and so we headed into Madang to find the flats we had reserved.
Madang is located on the coast, and it is one of the few cities in Papua New Guinea. It is a strange place as it is home to a localized population of flying foxes.
The flats we stayed at were located within walking distance of the ocean as well as downtown. On the afternoon we arrived, we walked over to the Madang Resort, which is located right on the ocean. The Madang Resort was at one time a very nice place to stay. Even today, the large courtyard is fenced off and you must enter through a gate. There are seaside cabins and a large hotel building. There is a large salt water pool located at the ocean; the only thing keeping the ocean out is a seawall. The pool is right adjacent to the restaurant, which is open to the air and also right on the ocean. They allow you to use the pool if you buy something to eat or drink. The striking thing about the resort is how nice it is and also how empty it is. It is not unusual for a resort like that to cost $400 U.S. a night, while the people who live in and work in Madang make the equivalent of around $0.66 U.S. per hour.
The first night we were in Madang we decided to go out to eat. There was a Chinese restaurant that was right on the ocean about a half a mile from our flat that was supposed to have very good food. We left our flat at around 7:30 pm and began to walk to the restaurant. This particular night happened to be the last Friday of the month, which was one of the two Fortnight Fridays for the month. In Papua New Guinea, everyone gets paid at the same time across the entire country, on Fortnight Friday. As a result, Fortnight Fridays tend to be rowdy. So it was when we began our walk to the hotel. It was already dark out, and there are very few street lights, so the streets were very dark. Our group included the two of us, our friends David and Evelyn, Marjon, and Susan. Being that we had lots of ladies in our group and only two men, Jacob and David tried to bring up the front and rear of the procession. There were groups of Papua New Guinean men milling around here and there and, as we passed, we would give a friendly greeting, which they would return. Once we made it to the restaurant we passed through a gate into a well lit courtyard that lead up to the main entrance to the restaurant. The restaurant was clean and the food was excellent.
The following morning we got up and drove out to a place called Rempi, which is a jungle village that is located right on the ocean. A missionary owns a small thatched cottage that is literally 10 feet from the ocean.
We swam out across a lagoon that was sheltered from the open ocean by a coral reef and two islands. The coral at Rempi is wild, this makes it amazingly beautiful and also a little dangerous. As we swam out across the lagoon, we had to swim over the top of the reef so we could snorkel along the drop-off to the open ocean.
The swim over the top of the reef was a little hairy as the water was shallow and the waves would lift you up and then drop you closer to the coral than comfortable.
As we snorkeled along the drop-off, we came along the seaward side of one of the islands and there was a group of naked young boys on the land and in the water tending nets. The way that they looked at us, they seemed to be wondering why on earth we were wasting our time looking at all of the fish if we weren’t going to catch them.
That afternoon we also went to Malolo Plantation. Malolo as it is called by the locals is a very fancy resort, by PNG standards. We were told that we could use the pool and the beautiful black sand beach if we purchased some food. We walked into the restaurant, but could not find anyone to wait on us. Finally when we did find someone, he said that they had sent almost the entire staff home early because the previous week a conference had been held at the hotel. As a result, all we could purchase was a can of pop, which cost two Kina, or $0.66. Not a bad cover charge to spend the afternoon lounging at a nice pool or swimming on a private black sand beach under the palm trees!
Later we came to find out that the conference had been hosted by Bill Gates, and was part of his global plan to eliminate malaria.
The following day, Sunday we had an opportunity to rent a Hilux, which is a four door Toyota truck and one of the most common vehicles you see in PNG and we used it to drive out to Buffalo Village, where a celebration was being held to commemorate the completion of the translation of the book of Mark. (This was the first book of the Bible completed in the Buffalo language.)
The book of Mark is often the first book of the Bible translated in a language due to the fact that it is the shortest of the four gospels, and therefore, the fastest way to get the gospel into the hands of the villagers.
The road to Buffalo Village is a dirt road that went right through the jungle. Our group included the two of us, David and Evelyn, Marjan, a national man named Simon, and two national women. Being that the Hilux only seats four or five if you squeeze in, Simon, David and Jacob rode in the back. We drove past many villages and villagers walking along the road, and they were all very excited to see white men in the back of the truck. Arriving at the village, we were shown around and then ushered to the church were the dedication was to take place.
The translators who work at Buffalo Village are missionaries who live in Ukarumpa, and Kim has their adopted daughter, Lillian in one of her math classes. Lillian is a Papua New Guinean by birth, but is being raised Dutch. Lillian was very excited to see Kim at the village and enjoyed taking her around and introducing her to all of her friends. It is very hot and steamy in the jungle and during the dedication we all just kind of sat and dripped sweat.
Once the dedication was complete, we were ushered to the translator’s house for the dinner that the villagers had been preparing since the previous evening. A large feast that accompanies a celebration in PNG is called a mumu. One interesting thing about mumu’s is that the people make the food together but then they all go to their own home to eat it. It is much different than an American feast, where everyone eats together.
The food was very good. We had brought our water bottles with us on the trip, but some of the villagers had made some orange drink and offered it to us, so we shared a glass of that instead of drinking our water. Shortly after the mumu, we loaded back into the Hilux and headed for home. It was getting to be about 3:30 pm and rain was coming. Also, it is not safe to be out after dark, so it is good to give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination so you have time to change a tire of something if you need to without being caught after dark. The rain hit when we were about half way back to Madang and Jacob was riding in the back of the Hilux, so he got pretty wet.
The following day we got a slow start. We were all pretty tired from the previous two days and, Marjan and Kim and I had pretty bad sunburns. Kim and I also were having stomach issues as a result of drinking the villagers’ orange drink the day before. We did some asking around and some of the people we talked to were shocked that we had drank the village drink and assured us that it most probably came from the river at the village. After a morning at our flat, we decided that we would walk over to the Madang resort and see if we could catch a small boat out to one of the islands off the coast known as Krankit Island. Krankit Island is in the shape of a horseshoe and we had read that the snorkeling in the lagoon on the inside of the island was really good. David, Evelyn, Marjan, Kim and Jacob walked down to the dock and, seeing a man with a boat, asked how much it would be to take us to Krankit Island. He said one Kina for each of us. We thought that was a pretty good deal so we hopped aboard and started out to the island. Once we were half way out to the island, the man driving the boat mentioned that one Kina would get us to the side of Krankit that is closest to the mainland, but the place we were heading to was on the far side of Krankit, and that would cost us six Kina for each person. We told him we would give him only 25 Kina and he agreed. One thing we learned on this trip is that each service has a price, and also a “waitman price”, and the waitman price is much more than they usually charge for the service they provide. In this scenario, we were being dropped off on a village island, and our only way back to the mainland was in this man’s boat, so we were okay with giving him a little more than normal to help him to remember to come back and get us. When we landed at our desired portion of the island, we walked along one of the sides of the horseshoe and found two small cottages located right on the tip, literally feet from the ocean on both sides of the island. The cottages could be rented for 80 Kina, or around $33 a night. At the cottages was a sand beach and we set out to snorkel from there. The snorkeling was amazing, the coral was vibrant and the fish life was very good. We saw lion fish, sea snakes, clown fish, and many others. It was amazingly good snorkeling and we had it all to ourselves. At the appointed time, our boat driver returned, and we headed back to Madang. (Sorry no pictures of Krankit Island, as all possessions were brought there at their own risk.)
The following day was our last day in Madang, so we decided to walk into town to do some shopping. In town there are thrift stores and grocery stores and a market. We went to the grocery store, and looked around at some thrift stores, and then went to the market. At the market Kim purchased a meri blaus, which is a traditional shirt worn by PNG women, and a lap lap, which is wrap-around skirt.
Jacob purchased a hand carved crocodile from a man named Moses. We also purchased some pineapples and other fruits. By the time we walked back to our flat, Kim was feeling quite sick, and Jacob was not doing much better. Our group was going to spend the afternoon at a resort known as Jais Aban. Jais Aban has good snorkeling and scuba diving. There is a B-25 Mitchell at 30 meters that you can scuba dive to and a Mitsubishi Zero that you can supposedly see with just your snorkel mask. But Kim and I stayed at the flat and reflected on the lesson we had learned about not drinking any water given to you at a jungle village while all of our friends went out to Jais Aban and had another nice day at the ocean.
The following morning we headed back to Ukarumpa. We left Madang at around 11 in the morning for the six hour trip back to Ukarumpa. It gets dark at around 6:30 in this part of Papua New Guinea, and it is not safe being on the roads after dark, so we were not giving ourselves much time to get un-stuck or change a tire if we needed to. Jacob was not very excited about our late departure from Madang, but as we were just along for the ride, he did not have a choice. For the most part, the road over the Finisterre Mountains was just as bad as it had been on our way to Madang, except in one part it was worse. As we crested a hill, a large group of Papua New Guinean men were standing in the middle of the road.
As we approached, we saw that the road was in terrible shape and they were working on it. It is always a little bit spooky when a large group of men are in the road because you never really know what they are doing. Sometimes they are stopping you to charge you to drive on the section of road they have just repaired, and sometimes they are stopping you so they can rob you. In this case, they were charging us to pass over the section of road they had been working on. As we pulled to a stop, one of the people on the bus held up his camera to take a picture, and when the national men saw the camera they all held their arms up and began to shout excitedly. They were so excited to be getting their pictures taken that they let us go through for the very low fee of 10 Kina ($3.33). We continued on past the excited “construction workers” and had an uneventful trip through the remaining portions of the Finisterre Mountains. We then drove across the Ramu Valley and started back up the Kissam Pass and into the Highlands of PNG. We had stopped at a few villages in the Ramu Valley and did not start up the Kissam Pass until around 4:00 pm. From the base of the pass we still had an hour and a half drive to Ukarumpa. We began the assent up the pass and after we had made it half of the way up the pass, the bus suddenly started to coast and the bus driver said, “There goes the transmission.” By this time it was about 4:30 pm and Jacob was realizing the fears he had about our late departure from Madang. Papua New Guinea is not a place to be on the roads after dark, and the Highlands have a reputation for being particularly bad. As soon as the bus stopped, Jacob jumped out and crawled under the front of the bus to look at the transmission.